THE GREAT TAMASHA COOKBOOK AND FAMILY
Darjeeling Is Entertained
Spiced Beef With Vinegar
(A recipe from a dear Anglo-Indian friend)
Cut the meat up, salt a little, turn it into a bowl, & just cover with vinegar. Sprinkle well with mixed spices. This may be kept for several days without ice, even in the hottest weather. When ready to use, fry with tomatoes and onions. Our dear friend’s husband used to say: “Those who say that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar can never have tasted this dish!”
Introductory Note by Katy Widdop:
From this point on, we found that large pieces of the manuscript, Our India Days, were missing. They seemed to be largely the old ladies’ accounts of the old days in India, whereas Antoinette’s descriptions of the scenes at Tamasha in the 1860s were all present, as far as we could tell, and we eventually came to the conclusion that Antoinette had written her notes that were meant to be interspersed with the India story in a block, intending to interfile them with the transcriptions of the great-aunts’ stories that she’d worked on at Tamasha. Whatever then happened in her life—we think it was the Boer War,* judging from the date of the manuscript—stopped her from consolidating all the scripts.
* Antoinette would have been about 50 in 1899. The Thomas family papers from Jane and Bill Cooper reveal that her oldest son, Michael, was killed in the Boer War. –Julie Darling.
However, the Thomas family papers from Jane and Bill Cooper were a huge help in filling in some of the gaps: Madeleine Thomas seems to have been terrifically impressed both by Ponsonby sahib in person and by the Lucas sisters’ description of Collector John Widdop: she wrote what read like verbatim transcriptions of everything that was said by Ponsonby or about Widdop to her sister, Adelaide. (Adelaide’s replies are mostly recipes for jam and household hints for getting spots off linen, etc!) So we’ve more or less got Ponsonby sahib’s own words, including his amusing stories of Indian life and his version of old Indian tales.
As well, we were thrilled to discover that the tin trunk contained several volumes of Collector Widdop’s journal (diary). A lot of the earlier volumes were just notes of what happened in his District—interesting historical documents but not relevant to our story. But his account of the goings-on in Darjeeling that year is extremely relevant and so we’ve drawn on it a lot, in some places quoting it in full and in others using it to flesh out the narrative. As you’ll see, he was a really lovely man and we’re proud to have him as an ancestor.
Even Charles concluded: “Cripes, what a decent bloke, eh?” This was after he’d found a new girlfriend through the blog, and to a certain extent it was at her prompting, but for a 21st-century, Generation-Y kid like Charles, it was a huge step in the right direction! Up until about then we’d all assumed he was interested in two things: his ruddy degree, it’s something incomprehensible to do with microorganisms that attack blue crabs—there are lots of blue crabs off the coast of South Australia, true—and surfing. With girls, at least a permanent relationship with one that might entail his moving out of his old mum’s house, coming a poor third. By the time we got to this chapter a few more people were starting to read the blog—Julie and Cassie were ecstatic, of course, so I didn’t point out that so far they’d had emails from two people. Well, you could count Jane and Bill as two rather than one, but it was a joint email, wasn’t it?
Sally Ponsonby was the other. She’d been surfing the Net, looking for stuff on her family history, and though she worked out that it wasn’t the same Ponsonbys, she got all interested in the blog and got in touch. As she’s a history student, and was just about to finalise her subject for her Ph.D., she wanted to come over to Adelaide to talk to Julie about it in person. She’s from Sydney, did I say? Easier than nipping over from the other side of the world—right. Anyway, she’d’ve either had to come over on the red-eye and go straight back the same night or sleep at a hotel, which being a student she couldn’t have afforded, of course, so Cassie said: “No way! She can stay with us. You can collect her from the airport, Charles, you’re not doing anything.”—Whinge, whinge, whinge. His car was in dock. (The ruddy thing’s always in dock.)—He could take Cassie’s.—He couldn’t spare the time from his Ph.D.—A blatant lie, as Cassie pointed out, also pointing out that if he wanted to be fed in future he could get off his bum and BE OF SOME HELP! He did point out that he’d transcribed pages and pages of horrible male writing that none of us had managed to read but Cassie just ignored the whole bit and he gave in. Well, at the time, she was working on a new recipe for chicken vindaloo in my kitchen and the smell was miraculous!
Cassie’s Easy Chicken Vindaloo
Joint and skin a chicken (or use equivalent chicken thighs/pieces) and soak in 1/2 cup wine vinegar (I use a Belgian red wine vinegar). Leave to stand for at least 1/2 hour.
Heat a frying pan on medium, add 6 cloves & one 8-cm cinnamon stick, unfurled as much as possible, & heat just until the aromas are released. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil & a 3 to 4 cm piece ginger, peeled & chopped, & fry for a few moments. Lower heat to medium-low & add 2 good teaspoons garlic paste and 1 teaspoon turmeric, stirring till mixed.
Transfer the chicken and the spice mixture to a slow cooker, add half of the remaining vinegar, & cook on LOW for about 6-8 hours. If it looks a little dry add some water, but the finished dish should not have very much liquid.
The result is quite delicate in taste and wonderfully aromatic. (I don’t add salt but you can if you like.) I’ve also done it in the big electric frypan and it works quite well. Let it simmer slowly for at least an hour and a half.
So Charles went off to the airport and collected Sally and they seem to have hit it off immediately. At any rate, he brought her back to Cassie’s place and actually asked meekly if there was anything he could do to help with breakfast—the poor girl hadn’t had any, she’d had to get up at around four to catch the ruddy red-eye from Sydney, and Cassie had said that of course they’d wait for her, and give her a decent breakfast. So they had pancakes with her special faked-up hot strawberry sauce, just for a treat, and you could have knocked Cassie down with a feather, because over breakfast he actually told Sally proudly about the lovely puris Cassie sometimes makes them for breakfast! (The sauce is really easy, even I can do it.)
Cassie’s Really Easy Hot Strawberry Sauce
Just chop the cleaned strawberries roughly, add sugar (I use raw but any will do), and microwave for a few seconds, until it bubbles. You do need to watch it like a hawk, that’s the only trick to it.
Get this: after the strawberry pancakes Charles volunteered to do the washing up! Usually he orders his mother loftily to bung the stuff in the dishwasher and stop being mean about electricity. Then instead of pushing off to uni he hung round and offered to drive them both over to my place. Well, it was pretty obvious he was really keen. Julie came over, of course, so as she could show Sally her blessed files, and while Charles was proudly showing her the stuff he’d deciphered for us she said in my ear: “Is that girl a miracle worker? What’s come over him?” Well, exactly! She is quite pretty, with nice hazel eyes, the sort that look very clear and somehow honest and straightforward, not the bulgy kind, and short, wavy light brown hair in one of those wispy cuts the girls have been going in for lately, but more than that, she’s one of those—if I used the word “perky” that wouldn’t give quite the right impression. Nor “lively”, either. One of those bright-eyed, slim people who seem really alive is about the closest I can get to it. Julie thought it over for a bit and then she decided that Tiddy Lucas must’ve been a bit like that. Sally’s fairly tall—well, lots of Aussie girls are taller, she’s not very tall, maybe about five-foot-nine (don’t ask me what that is in metric!) while we know that Tiddy was short, but yes, I’d say she’s right.
It hasn’t gone anywhere as yet, it’s a bit soon for that, but Sally got really keen on the project and took loads of notes and spent ages and ages talking to Julie about her thesis subject, and promised she’d be back soon, so it’s looking good! And she’s given Charles her phone number. And he actually said if she can’t make it back here he might go over there at Easter. Mind you, after she’d gone home Julie put her great foot in her mouth by saying to him: “See? It just shows what happens when you get involved with the rest of the world instead of sitting in your room with your head in your computer all day and night,” but he just laughed and said: “Knock it off, Aunty Julie!”
Sorry, I meant to say, the recipe for the puris is the one we’ve put in Chapter 2, “Poorees of White Flour (A Breakfast Dish)”. Cassie does them in a non-stick pan lightly sprayed with cooking oil. A lot of recipes say to deep-fry them, and they are nice like that, but she’s trying to cut down on using lots of oil.
When you read this chapter you’ll see why we’ve started it with the vindaloo-type recipe where Antoinette mentions catching flies with honey! There sure were some honey-traps being laid in Darjeeling that year—and a fair amount of vinegar around, too!
From the unfinished MS., circa 1899: Our India Days
Chapter 11: More Darjeeling Days;
Together With Some Curious Indian Tales
Indeed, Madeleine, dear, it was so delightful to have Ponsonby sahib’s company yesterday, was it not? And his knowledge of all the personalities concerned greatly enlivened the story, did it not? Naughty man! –Such a pity you missed him, Mr Thomas. No, no, dear sir, it was not too much for him at all—he keeps very well in the warmer weather, you know, and in spite of the good doctor’s orders often rises early and takes a little constitutional in the grounds. Yes, as Tiddy says, in order to present a convincing appearance of an elderly gentleman who is strictly obeying his medical man’s orders when poor Dr Fortescue calls at ten!
Now, this afternoon the children and our dear Ponsonby sahib have gone for an elephant ride—they have decided the gazebo on the far side of the lake is an elephant, Mr Thomas, and it is certainly as ornate as any howdah we ever saw, so why not? We were planning to reveal the solution to the mystery of who exactly held the title deeds to the Widdop bungalow, but perhaps Mr Thomas will not find it interesting, girls, so— You caught up with Antoinette’s notes this morning, Mr Thomas? And cannot wait to have that mystery resolved, as also the puzzle of who was Mrs Allardyce’s mysterious seductress? Very well, then, if you are quite sure, dear sir—yes, by all means pull up that little table for Antoinette, thank you! Oh, thank you, Madeleine, dear, that new parasol of Tess’s does have a very stiff catch. There, now! Most comfortable! Now, it is more tiffin and verandahs, we fear!
Emily Carruthers had refused nimboo panee but allowed the meek Violet Allardyce to provide her with a cup of tea instead. Now she looked disdainfully at the tray of sujee cakes proffered by Mrs Allardyce’s own Kamala and said: “Oh—native food. No, take them away, ayah.”
Grimly Tiddy ordered, just as Violet was opening her mouth: “Do not dare to apologise, Violet, nor to offer her anything else. She has lived in the country all her life.”
“My dear Tiddy,” said Emily, looking down her nose, which was certainly substantial enough to make the gesture easy, “that does not mean that one has to lower one’s standards.”
“Um, they’re very nice, Emily,” offered Harriet Doolittle uneasily.
“Oh, pooh!” said Emily with a shrug. “I must say, one of the great benefits of staying at a pleasant hotel is that one can order up nice food whenever one cares, and is not at the mercy of frightful native bearers who think that being in one’s service forever entitles them to rule the roast. You would not believe the things that Mamma’s ghastly Ram Gopal and that dreadful old woman who was Martha’s ayah attempt to get away with. Why Mamma does not send the old creature packing I cannot imagine: she does nothing but sit around eating night and day, embarrassing one when one is attempting to entertain one’s friends.”
“This is the same old ayah who saved Martha and Julian Carruthers’s lives in the big cholera epidemic when they were three and five, an I mistake not,” noted Tiddy grimly.
Harriet was very red. “Um, yes!” she gasped. “Of course! Mrs Carruthers could not possibly sack her, Emily!”
“Pooh,” said Emily, pouting.
“Cook might be able to provide some sandwiches,” said Violet limply.
“Rubbish,” said Tiddy grimly. “There is plenty here. And if Cook’s sujee cakes are good enough for your Mamma and Collector Widdop, they are certainly good enough for her.”
Emily’s teacup became suspended halfway to her mouth. “Collector Widdop has called?”
“Only for tiffin,” said Violet in a small voice.
“Good heavens!” she said, sipping the tea.
Violet was very flushed. “Mamma has known him since she was a girl,” she said in a defiant voice.
Emily lowered the cup. “I am very sure she has, my dear Violet.”
Tiddy glared but could think of no retort, and Violet and Harriet just stared glumly into their laps, so Emily, very satisfied, sipped the tea again and pronounced it to be very tolerable. And refrained for at least ten minutes from producing the further remark:
“What a busy man Collector Widdop is, to be sure.”
The other girls had thought the subject safely turned to the oddness of Mrs Mollison’s clothes and the more general oddness of Mrs Mollison, for cigarillos were such horrid, smelly things, and they jumped.
Then Tiddy said firmly: “To be successful at his job, a Collector must be.”
Emily gave a titter. “Not that! Goodness, what a child you still are, my dear Tiddy! No, finding the time to visit with Mrs Turner, and of course her sister-in-law, Miss Turner, so kind, for she does not receive many visits, and also with Violet’s Mamma, and escorting Mrs Matcham and Lady Anna Lovatt to dinner with Colonel and Mrs Wendell-Fiennes, and finding the time to tool Lady Caroline Armstrong about the town in his tonga, well, possibly his brother’s tonga, since he is not up here so very much himself, but at all events the Widdop bungalow tonga, so kind, for of course Lady Armstrong is rather occupied with Miss Armstrong, and I am sure Lady Caroline would be thrown quite on her own resources, otherwise—and still finding the time to offer delightful little dinners to Mrs Mollison at the hotel!” She gave them a triumphant look.
“Given that you used the phrase ‘finding the time to’ at least thrice, that information was not such a sophisticated offering as you apparently imagine it to have been, Emily,” said Tiddy grimly to the smirk.
“No, indeed,” agreed Harriet Doolittle bravely. “And pray do not believe her implication that Mrs Mollison did anything so shocking as to dine alone with the Collector, girls, because it was no such thing. It was the public dining-room, and Lady Anna Lovatt and her brother, Lord Freddy, and the Collector’s brother and Mrs Matcham were there also! And—and they are all adult people,” she said on a defiant note, “and the ladies are widows, and—and must be supposed to be old enough to—to please themselves!”
“They are certainly old enough to do that!” agreed Emily with a snigger. “And more than old enough to refer to Lord Frederick Dewhurst by his pet-name, though I confess myself surprised to find you consider yourself so, Harriet. Or is it that you feel you have become close enough with him, in the short period of time you have known him?”
“I met him in Calcutta!” said Harriet loudly, very red-faced.
“Well, yes. And of course the two years between you has not diminished since, so I dare say you may well feel at ease to take the liber—”
Harriet bounced to her feet. “You are an unspeakable cat, Emily Carruthers, and I am not at all interested in Lord Frederick, and if you think he will look twice at you, you are very much mistaken!” Forthwith she rushed into the house.
There was a moment’s stunned silence on the side verandah of the Allardyce House. Tiddy Lucas, for one, found she was wishing that Mrs Allardyce were not so complaisant in the matter of her daughter’s entertaining her own friends in private.
Violet rose uncertainly. “Perhaps I should—um—”
“She will have run home. It is only a step to the hotel. They only took a tonga because of Someone’s consequence,” said Tiddy, getting up. “You may go away, Emily Carruthers, and do not bother to favour us with your spite again, thank you. And if your Mamma wonders why you are no longer welcome at Mrs Allardyce’s house, you have my permission to give her the full story.”
Emily got up uncertainly, looking at Violet. “It is not your say-so, Tiddy Lucas!”
“You had better go, please, Emily,” said Violet in a tiny voice. “And—and I’m very sorry.”
“No, you’re not,” said Tiddy, putting a sustaining arm round her.
“Um, no, I meant about Lord Freddy,” said Violet, still in the tiny voice.
“‘Freddy!’” cried Emily angrily, suddenly turning crimson. “You are as bad as she is! Very well, I shall go, and don’t think that Mamma will invite you or your sisters, Tiddy Lucas, when Julian comes home!” And she flounced off.
“Goodness, never tell me she affects Freddy Dewhurst, too?” said Tiddy with a laugh.
“Well! Now, never tell me you said it on purpose!”
“Um—yes,” admitted Violet.
Tiddy gave her a hug. “Good for you!” she said gaily. “Well, Emily always was a cat, and if her nose is out of joint because Freddy D. hasn’t looked twice at her, I dare say we may expect her to get worse before she gets better!”
Tiddy looked hard at her. “That stuff about the Collector and your Mamma was only rubbish, you know, Violet. It is just that your Mamma has so much charm: the cats and the dull puddings alike are all jealous of her.”
“Yes, it is only that, isn’t it?” she said gratefully.
“Of course.” Tiddy sat down again and reached for the plate, cordially inviting her hostess’s daughter to join her, and the two maidens finished the sujee cakes.
Mix 1 cup of sujee [semolina] in a saucepan with 2 cups of milk. Add the milk gradually to make sure that no lumps are formed. Stir in 1 tablespoon of melted butter and 2 tablespoons of sugar (or more, to taste). Boil till the mixture thickens very much, stirring constantly to prevent sticking. Allow this mixture to cool. Then briskly mix in 2 beaten eggs & the seeds of 10 elaychee pods [cardamoms], ground. Cool further.* Now heat yr. frying oil & fry spoonsful of the cold sujee mixture till golden on both sides. Remove & drain. Serve these cold for [afternoon] tea.
* It must be completely cold or the sujee cakes tend to fall apart when fried. -Cassie Babbage
Naturally speculation about the various persons up in the hills that season was also engaging older and possibly wiser heads.
“I had heard,” said Miss MacDonnell on a dubious note, “that Collector Widdop was very much interested in Lady Caroline Armstrong.”
In the deep shade of Miss MacDonnell’s deodar tree, Mlle Dupont peered at her uncertainly. “Eugh—well, he was seen driving her, I think, Miss MacDonnell.”
“More than once, chère Mlle Dupont!” contributed Mr Sebastian Whyte with a giggle. “The Widdop tonga has scarce had two hours’ rest together since he arrived!”
“That,” said Miss MacDonnell on a very weak note, “is a naughty exaggeration, dear Mr Whyte.”
—Malcolm, dear boy, we thought you were playing with the others? Matt sent you for the tiger? Dearest child, it must have been a joke! Is Ponsonby sahib not still with you? He’s in charge of the guns? Do you mean he is still in the gazebo with the other children? Yes, on the elephant, of course, we do apologise! He said that the tiger is in the libr—Oh, good gracious, the old tiger-skin rug! Yes, as your Great-Aunt Tiddy says, Ponsonby sahib is misremembering: it was in the library at Ma Maison. Our Grandfather Pointer shot it, years and years before any of us were born—yes, from the back of an elephant, Malcolm, that’s quite right!
Not on the floor, no: Great-Aunt Tonie is correct in saying it used to be draped over a sofa, the head leering quite horridly at one—surely it was not missing a glass eye back then, was it? Well, perhaps it was! Ponsonby sahib had it out for the children when? Well, yes, your Papa would have been about your age, Malcolm, Josie’s children very often came to stay… But where is it? In the India bedroom, Antoinette? –It has a ridiculously ornate carved and inlaid bed, Mr Thomas, which was presented to our father by an Indian rajah who apparently believed that an English bed had to be an immense four-poster surmounted by a positive cupola! Mamma tried to persuade him to leave it behind in Calcutta but dearest Papa loved his joke: he had it dismantled, with every last peg labelled and numbered, and brought it home express, or such was his claim, to invite the Duke of Wellington to sleep in it! –No. Malcolm, dear, the Duke never stayed here, but Ponsonby sahib’s dear friend the Earl of Sleyven certainly slept in it whenever he visited: he had just such a sense of humour, too! Why, of course: he used to play at tiger hunts with the little ones, such a dear man: the rug must be in that room! Take Malcolm up, Antoinette, dear, he will not know which room it is.
…Help, help, a tiger! –Yes, a ferocious tiger, Malcolm! You look very lifelike indeed! But is not the skin horridly heavy? It will certainly give them a scare, yes, but dear boy, you do realise that the inevitable result of a tiger hunt is that the poor tiger is shot? –Roll over with your paws in the air? Er, very well, dear, if you wish to be the tiger… Well, at least they are letting him play. The skin will not really scare the little girls, Mr Thomas, though we may well hear the screams: but you see, that is their way of enjoying themselves, at that age! Er, yes, and as dearest Tiddy says, sometimes at a later age, too! And, indeed, in comparison to the social amusements of Darjeeling in its season, not even a tiger shoot in an English garden could be called silly!
Mlle Dupont and the girls had volunteered for barouche duty. Mademoiselle had reproved Tiddy for the phrase, but without her customary conviction, for really, driving out with Mrs Allardyce now that the town was so full had become, it was not putting it too strongly, a positive penance. Usually they at least managed to get out of their own gateway in peace, but not today! True, it was only a Sub-Lieutenant Jones and a scarcely more fledged Lieutenant Macdonald, but Mrs Allardyce greeted them with as much delight as if they had been—well, to put it as charitably as one reasonably could, fully-blown colonels about to retire to large English country estates. “Who were they?” said Violet limply as the two young men went on their way, very pink in the region of the ears.
“My darling girl, you met them at Mrs Colonel Cornell’s little hop! Now, the Jones boy is nothing very much, but of course his father is that delightful ‘Jonesy’, as everyone calls him, with John Company! And Bobby Macdonald is one of the Macdonalds! Well, a cousin of a cousin, but—”
They had actually reached the corner of Trafalgar Grove before a very senior officer was sighted. In company with a couple of very junior ones, who, it appeared, did not count. Though she was very, very charming to them. “Mamma, pray do not claim I have met them before,” said Violet limply at long last.
“What?” she said vaguely, smiling. “Oh! No, well, of course you have met General Sir Michael Trandor, the dear man: though as you were in your cradle at the time, I shall allow it not to count! Then he was sent up the country, and my dears, what a stir that caused! Because of course he had been at Corinna Frayn’s feet, and everyone said that ‘Poppy’ F. had had him sent, you know, and then, there was the added complication of Mrs Medway…”
|"General Sir Michael Trandor, K.C.M.G., upon the Occasion|
of his Engagement to Lady Caroline Armstrong"
Oil on canvas, 1832, by Frederick Greenstreet
(Formerly in the Trandor Collection)
Courtesy of the Maunsleigh Collection
She shook her head, sighed, smiled and gave herself a little shake. “Well! It was years back, my dearest, and of course, once he was there, and the Maharajah—such a cultivated man—determined on marrying him to his daughter, it was a different story entirely! But I shall allow you not to have met those boys before!” She smiled kindly at her.
“What?” said Violet limply. “Oh! Um, yes. Um, shall you, Mamma? Thank you.”
Mrs Allardyce patted her hand lightly. “But you shall have the pleasure of meeting them again, at General Hay’s ball, I promise you!”—Violet smiled palely, not pointing out that they would not remember her, or not notice her if they did remember her.—“And you, of course, Tiddy,” she said kindly.
Then a madly-signalling tonga forced them to pull up, and the grinning Major Mason jumped off the back of it in company with another major, and the driver, not a native but another major, unceremoniously dumped the reins on his startled companion and leapt down, also grinning— “What,” said Tiddy thoughtfully as at long last the barouche proceeded on its way, with Mrs Allardyce in possession of a bunch of flowers which quite undoubtedly had originally been intended for some other lady entirely, “is the collective noun for a group of majors, I wonder?”
“That other man,” said Violet weakly, “was a medical man, Tiddy.”
“Young Dr Hethersett; I remember his father,” said Mrs Allardyce dreamily, sniffing the flowers. “Mmm… Lovely. I wonder whom the naughty fellow bought them for?” she added with a gurgle. “—Mountain, Tiddy?” she said dreamily.
Tiddy jumped. “I beg your pardon, ma’am?”
“A mountain of majors?” suggested Mrs Allardyce, twinkling at her over the flowers.
“They certainly gave that impression,” admitted Tiddy feebly.
“Um, yes, but it isn’t very military. I would just have said, a regiment,” Violet offered.
“Expectable, darling,” murmured her mother.
Tiddy’s eyes narrowed. “A medley?”
Mrs Allardyce’s delicious silvery laugh rang out upon the warm Darjeeling air. “Lovely! Take these, darling,” she added in a vague voice, dumping the flowers suddenly on her daughter. “Syce! Pull up! I declare, it is Commander Voight in person! But it cannot be! What are you doing in the hills, you naughty man?”
|"Voight ready to woo the ladies"|
Sketch, pencil & watercolour, from John Widdop's jouranl, circa 1829.
From the Widdop family papers
“—So far from the sea,” muttered Tiddy, sotto voce, allowing her chin to sink onto her chest and her person to slump down—
“Sit up straight, Tiddy! You are a young lady now!”
“Oui, Mademoiselle.” Tiddy sat up straight and prepared to smile at, for a change, a naval gentleman of somewhat advanced years who was now fawning over Mrs Allardyce’s hand. Yes, fawning: there was no other possible word. For they were all, young or old, and whatever the colour of the uniform, entirely at Mrs Allardyce’s feet.
The following day, Miss Martinmass having demanded the entire report, Tiddy gave it. “We bought half a dozen handkerchiefs. The whole expedition taking us just under three hours.”
Miss Martinmass tried to envisage it and failed. “But the town is so very sm—Stay! You called somewhere, did you not?”
“No,” said Tiddy baldly.
“Just at Miss MacDonnell’s, for a rest in the sh—”
“Three hours,” she muttered dazedly. “Did you get as far as Long Reach Villa, then?”
“No,” said Tiddy baldly.
“She is,” said Miss Martinmass very weakly indeed, “a very popular lady.”
“Yes. It certainly gave the lie to the story of Collector Widdop’s fascination by Lady Caroline Armstrong, for they were chatting together outside Madame Lucille’s, but he abandoned her in the most brazen fashion to mount into the barouche with us.”
“No!” she gasped.
“Well,” said Tiddy meanly, “it is a commodious vehicle: it could not have been thought inconvenient.”
“Silly one,” returned Miss Martinmass tolerantly.
“Sorry! He’s quite a lot younger than his brother, is he not?”
“Yes,” said the squashed Miss Martinmass, blushing very much.
|"The martyred Miss M."|
Sketch, watercolour, pen & ink, from John Widdop's journal, circa 1829.
From the Widdop family papers
Oh, dear. Tiddy had not suspected her of— She had now realised that in spite of Mrs Martinmass’s known preference, Miss Martinmass did not want the elderly Major-General Widdop. But his brother was a very different kettle of fish and, when one thought about it, why should Miss Martinmass be the only unmarried lady in British India not to realise it? Oh, dear. Quickly she said: “Well, large families, I suppose.”
“Of course. Why, there were eleven sisters!” she said, brightening.
Smiling bravely, Tiddy allowed Miss Martinmass to give her chapter and verse on the eleven Widdop sisters. Doubtless it was her just punishment for having been so heedless as to voice her thought without first asking herself what might be Miss Martinmass’s reaction to it.
—No, no, Mr Thomas, we shall not reveal at this point whether Lady Caroline Armstrong were she! And you must not think to catch us out by asking in such a demure tone! Now, what came next, Tiddy, dearest? Oh, yes: Lady Cartwright had got up a picknick. Nothing below the rank of collector? Almost! A few junior souls had been invited in order to make it seem as if the thing were not got up express to allow the senior strata of hill station society to behave in a manner unbecoming to their years and stations in life. Sops, in fact, to Cerberus.
Extract from a letter to Miss Lucas from Tiddy Lucas,
from “The Allardyce House, Trafalgar Grove, Darjeeling”,
found in the tin trunk in poor condition
One of the sops swiftly enough cut out another from the herd and sequestered it on a rug under a shady tree. The conversation then did not go in the direction which, it was clear, he had intended. And Charlie Hatton said with the suspicion of a pout in his voice: “I don’t see why you’re so interested in Widdop. Or are you at one with the vast majority?”
“Vast majority of what?” I returned smartly.
“The fair sex,” said Charlie on a sour note, raising himself on his elbow a little to look with resentment at the spectacle of the top of Collector Widdop’s head, surrounded by a froth of frills and parasols.
“Not quite. But I can see that he is very charming: I am not wholly impervious!”
“Fancy,” said Charlie sourly.
“But my chief fascination with him—” Here I paused artfully.
“Yes?” he said unwillingly.
“Is the mystery of who holds the title deeds to the Widdop bungalow, of course! –You gaby!” added I with a laugh as he grinned sheepishly.
“You will never solve it,” he noted, rallying.
“What do you bet I do not?” said I instantly.
“Oh—the supper dance at General Hay’s ball,” he said on an idle note.
That is at the end of the week, as I pointed out feebly. As might have been expected, he drawled: “What, no bottle?”
This of course put me on my mettle. “Very well, I shall do it!”
Charlie smiled. “You’ll have to get near him first,” he noted, glancing over at the gaggle of fr[ills and parasols]. “And in the unlikely event you win?”
Beating that pest, Charlie Hatton, and solving the mystery that had engrossed polite Darjeeling society for the last several years would be quite enough for me, I assure you! But I suggested: “Dance the supper dance with Miss Martinmass, Charlie.”
“I shall not have to,” he noted. “—Done.”
—Calm down, Antoinette! Great-Aunt Tiddy was more than a match for Charlie Hatton and ever had been! You will see!